Mike at the Movies

“Black Swan” (R) ****

There is considerable controversy about this film and much misleading writing about it. You’ll have to see it for yourself to determine the causes for the, in my opinion, misinterpretations of what the film is about, but here is my take: This film is about a dancer, Natalie Portman as Nina, cast in the dual role of Odette/Odile in a production of “Swan Lake.” There is evidence that she is not technically up to the role, but for various reasons, some of them admittedly sexual, the ballet’s choreographer selects her for the role.

The rest of the film is a portrayal of the inevitable breakdown of Nina under the pressure of performing something she is not psychologically prepared to play: the role of the Black Swan. It demands a freedom of technique she does not have. She looks desperately for ways to capture that freedom but she is, due to an overprotective mother, played by Barbara Hershey, and her own lack of life experience, in over her head. She even turns, reluctantly, to drugs, given her by her ostensible rival, played perfectly by Mila Kunis. The drugs lead Nina into various hallucinations, one being an intense sexual relationship with Kunis.

Some have characterized this as a banal film about ballet with all the usual clichés about ballerinas and their world. I still feel it is about a single dancer and the attempts she makes to escape her nature for the role she needs to play. Portman is rightfully being discussed as an Oscar favorite for her spectacular performance, on- and off-pointe; Vincent Cassel is on target as the rapacious director; and Kunis, whose character is somewhat of an enigma, radiates, as usual.

This film reminded me in its texture of “Inception” — it forces you to keep asking, “What is real and what is not?” That question is important for the audience but even more for Nina, who can never figure out the answer until the last frames of the film. Excellent stuff.

“The Fighter” (R) ****

This biopic resonates like most boxing biographies: The kid comes back and creates championships out of grit and determination while music like the theme from “Rocky” swells in the background. This film is the story of Micky Ward of Lowell, Mass., and his addicted half-brother, Dicky Eklund, once a former boxer himself.

Dicky’s (Christian Bale) reputation and self-image comes from a controversial claim that he knocked down Sugar Ray Leonard. No amount of cocaine will make him change his story. Micky, as a result, is always the kid brother who’s being groomed to follow in his brother’s footsteps. Micky is played note perfectly by Mark Wahlberg, and Bale’s performance is stunning, as are the performances of the other members of the entourage that assembles around the fighter.

Lowell is very much a working class town, and Ward’s background was strictly working class. His family, mostly sisters and half-sisters, is ruled by Alice Ward, with Melissa Leo in a spectacular performance as Alice. The scene in which she leads the coven of sisters and half-sisters on a mission to destroy Micky’s girlfriend, Charlene (Amy Adams), is like Brunnhilde leading the Valkyries on a charge.

The plot may be predictable, but the cast is astoundingly deep and the subplots of Dicky’s out-of-control nature and the loving loyalty of George, Micky’s stepfather, are emotionally rich. The fight footage is about as realistic and effective as fight footage ever gets; Amy Adams is distinctly not a prissy little princess any more; and “The Fighter” is moving and true.

Ward and his brother make a cameo appearance beside the credits for those of you who may have forgotten him. He was three times in a row named a participant in the “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine, and his three bouts with Arturo Gotti are still worth watching and still unbelievable in their ferocity. So is this film.

“The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader” (PG)***

If lovable fighting rats and dependable, valiant dragons are your thing, this film is for you. “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” demands no previous knowledge of any of the other two Narnia films, though they share many cast members.

Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are back with Prince Caspian and are constantly in peril but escape due to intrepidity and stout hearts as well as some timely intervention by Cousin Eustace and his new pal, Reepicheep the Rat, voiced by Simon Pegg. Eustace, sounds like “Useless,” is exactly that for most of the picture until he is transformed into a fire-breathing dragon, at which time he’s the hero who saves the day. Prior to his transformation he is primarily a comic foil as well as the cast member you barely tolerate.

Lucy (played by a refreshingly plain Georgia Hensley, 15) is the sensible one; Edmund (Skandar Keynes, 19) is appropriately dashing, as is Prince Caspian, played by Ben Barnes.

The plot involves getting seven swords together at a mysterious dinner table, at which time a green mist will lift and bewitched folks will be returned to their lives. Lots of buckles are swashed and much fire emerges from dragons and serpents before the Grand Sword Reunion, but it is all well done. The only quibble some may have is with the unequal film quality used in the print. Some scenes look to be shot in old-fashioned and garish Technicolor while others are modern and realistic. I could not determine a pattern or any symbolic use of the different color types. The film is viewable in 3-D. I saw it in 2-D and could imagine only a few instances in which 3-D might have made a difference, none of them significant.

Some of the dragon and serpent stuff may be a bit strong for the youngest viewers. Those who saw any of the other Narnia entries are used to it, though, and nothing here should upset them.

“The Tourist” (PG-13) **

This could have been a fine, sexy action film. Indeed, early on, with a chase across the rooftops of Venice lightened with some touches of humor and an inventive escape by boat through the canals, it looks like fine and sexy are possible. Then the director fell in love with Angelina Jolie and choreographed the film so that it showcases her unusual beauty, especially her face, and what could have been action turns into endless talk, talk, talk.

Johnny Depp, as Frank Tupelo, a math teacher from Madison, Wis., fades into the scenery as Jolie strolls into balls, five-star hotels and other luxury settings in numerous gowns and piles of diamonds. The lack of action is incomprehensible, given the chances for lots of blood and beatings: A mystery man named Alexander Pearce, once a lover of Elise (Jolie) has stolen billions of dollars from a hoodlum named Shaw. Shaw’s men and Scotland Yard are both trying to get Pearce — Shaw for his billions, Scotland Yard for back taxes of some $744 million.

The movie never gets up to speed. Frank at one point asks plaintively, “Why is everybody trying to kill me?” Elise answers, “Because I kissed you.” There should have been a better reason.

“How Do You Know” (PG-13) **

Written and directed by James Brooks, this film was clearly designed as a vehicle for Reese Witherspoon. She is the focus of innumerable romantic close-ups, but they are not romantic enough.

Witherspoon is cast as Lisa, a U.S.A. national softball player who is cut. She is dismayed, but it doesn’t bother her boyfriend, Matty, a pitcher with the Washington Nationals making $14 million with a 94 mph fastball. With the Nationals, that would be worth a bigger contract. Owen Wilson plays Matty as a jock so dumb you can see thoughts fighting their way to get from one side of his brain to the other without ever making the complete trip.

The real love interest is George Madison (Paul Rudd), son of a father played ponderously by Jack Nicholson, who has caused his son to unwittingly fall under a federal indictment for bribing foreign officials. It is clear from the first meeting of Lisa and George that they are meant to be together. The only questions are how they will get there and how long it will take for them to make the trip. The answers are: who cares and eternity!

How bad is Matty? This about describes his way of seeing the world: “I think I’m in love when I wear a condom with the other girls.” He has about 20 toothbrushes in his “overnight” drawer and isn’t sure which “Lisa” is ringing his doorbell! Not the guy who is going to get the girl.

This is one of those movies that you think can’t miss because of the writer/director and cast. Your thinking would be wrong.

“TRON: Legacy” (PG) **

What a mish-mash! A sequel to the ‘80s “Tron,” one of the first computer-oriented films, and even including some 2-D scenes from that film, this entry is a confusion. It involves Sam Flynn (Garrett Hedlund) trying to find his father, Kevin (Jeff Bridges) in “The Grid,” a computer-game world that Kevin created when Sam was a kid. There we meet Clu (Bridges) who is the villain as he is not human and has eliminated the “Isos,” also a creation of Kevin, in “The Purge.” Kevin has been banished to the boondocks by Clu who is bound to take over his universe. Quorra (Olivia Wilde) who has a parallel back home in the real world, is the “Last Iso.”

I’ll leave you there because the rest is computer-generated motorcycle, car and plane chases with much destruction of property and “people”. The only helpful thing about this film is that the bad guys are always outlined in brilliant orange or yellow and the good guys in black and white. Other than that, it’s a matter of “capture the disc” and “capture it back.”

“Yogi Bear” (PG) *

This horrid little film has the disadvantages of being unimaginative, unfunny and, as shown here, follows a very funny Roadrunner cartoon. The comparison hurts Yogi. Besides, there’s nothing smutty about the Roadrunner and Wily Coyote. Here there are passing gas jokes, pee jokes other crude references that detract from its possible appeal to the younger set. “Jokes” are banal, copies of very old jokes (the first one is a pie in the face), and Yogi is not very appealing.

Daws Butler was the original Yogi voice. Dan Aykroyd is a poor substitute. Tom Cavanagh, “Ed” from a charming NBC series of a few years ago, has a cardboard role as Head Ranger Smith, T.J. Miller is an irritating second banana to Cavanagh, and even the villains are dull and predictable. Anna Faris, who has been previously cast as a sexpot and dream girl as well as a Playmate housemother, is wasted in the love interest role here and is both plain and unfunny, clearly no more than a prop.

There are much better choices of kids’ movies this season. Skip this one.

Enjoy more of Mike’s movie reviews at www.towncourier.com.

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